Genetics is the study of genes, their functions, and their effects.
At the center of scientific advancement in the 21st century, geneticists are immersed in exciting science, technology, and medical breakthroughs every day. The opportunities are numerous to contribute to the advancement of science, the care of patients, and the teaching of the next generation of genetics professionals. One must be ready to make a commitment in time, energy, and focus to be a successful geneticist, but the rewards are enormous. What more exciting and energizing field could anyone choose?
If you are interested in becoming a geneticist, regardless of your eventual career path, you should start by taking plenty of math and science courses in high school, especially biology and chemistry. In college, biology, chemistry, and biochemistry are popular majors for those interested in genetics careers. Larger institutions may offer more specialized majors such as genetics or molecular biology. Again, you will need to take plenty of math and science classes, and do well in these classes. With your undergraduate science degree, many paths in genetics are open to you!
As the details of the human genome unfold, the variety of opportunities for people with degrees and training in human genetics is continuing to expand. There are opportunities in basic and clinical research, in medical professions, and in interdisciplinary fields, such as patent law. The genetics workforce is not sufficient even now, and demand continues to increase. For example, as genetic testing becomes more commonplace, and a part of many routine medical evaluations, more laboratory geneticists will be needed to perform the tests, and clinicians and counselors will be needed to interpret and explain the results to individuals and families. At the intersection of genetics and computer science, bioinformaticists are in high demand to make sense of complex data. As genetics is recognized to be a basic part of all biological sciences, more and more teachers with expertise in genetics will also be needed. These are just a few examples of the growing demand for professions trained in genetics.
A geneticist's work week structure and duties vary greatly depending on their career field. Geneticists working in fields such as media, law, public policy, or education follow the typical work week schedule of those fields. Research and health professionals have some control over their work schedules, but often work more than 40 hours every week. For researchers, experiments may take many hours to complete, or require lab work several days in a row. In addition to the laboratory and/or field work required to perform the studies, researchers must read the scientific literature, analyze their own data, and prepare manuscripts of their work for scientific journals. Also, most medical research is quite expensive, and researchers are responsible for competing nationally for funding to support their work by writing successful grant applications. In the case of practicing clinical and laboratory geneticists and genetic counselors, patients come first. That commitment may translate into long days to complete evaluations or follow up, or may include weekend obligations.
The salaries and fringe benefits vary, depending on educational background (i.e., highest degree held) and the position taken, but in general, people working in genetics are well-compensated professionals. Geneticists working in university medical centers or research institutions would have salaries and benefits typical of faculty members of similar rank. For those geneticists choosing a career in the private sector (e.g., a biotechnology company), the salary and benefits might vary according to the resources of the company.
Good geneticists have a basic curiosity and passion about the genetic basis of health and disease. To be successful at the job, one must have perseverance, patience, and good communication skills. Geneticists love to learn and are self-motivated. Students interested in genetics careers should take as much science and math as possible in high school and college.